Niknafs, Nasim

The Use of Improvisation by K-8 General Music Teachers in Illinois: A Mixed Methods Study

The purpose of this mixed methods study was to investigate the status of improvisation in selected general music classrooms in the state of Illinois and to explore teachers’ beliefs and practices related to improvisation. Research questions in this study were focused on the attitudes and beliefs of teachers toward improvisation, the characteristics of music teachers who do and do not use improvisation activities, and the reasons music teachers use or avoid improvisation activities. The design employed an explanatory sequential mixed methods approach. Phase 1 included a survey of selected K-8 general music teachers in the state of Illinois ( N = 199). Phase 2 was comprised of three case studies of music teachers who were purposefully sampled by their use of improvisation activities with minimum or maximum time spent on improvisational activities in their classrooms.

The results illustrated that 87% of K-8 general music teachers, sampled by this study, use improvisation activities in their music classrooms. The results also revealed that music teachers believe that improvisation is important, appropriate for students to learn, invaluable for students’ engagement in music, and an integral part of a holistic music education. However, it was suggested that music teachers’ professional teaching identities might have an impact on their attitudes toward improvisation and consequent use of their teaching time on improvisation activities.

Findings revealed that Orff certification, number of improvisation courses in prior education, and comfort improvising on teachers’ main instrument are associated with the amount of time spent on improvisation activities. The results also suggested that music teachers’ attitudes and beliefs toward improvisation, prior music teacher education, and policies related to improvisation activities influence time spent on improvisation. It is a reality in teaching that not all music teachers are specialized in the field of their teaching positions. The way music teachers are educated in the United States might orient music teachers toward specific pathways that not always prepare them for challenges outside their specialty areas. Overall, if teachers learn how to teach improvisation in their music teacher education programs, they will be more willing to use such activities in their music classrooms.

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